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SJB blames huge losses on failure to complete storage complex



Waste of perishables during ‘lockdown’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Dr. Harsha de Silva says substantial waste of vegetables due to the ‘lockdown’ imposed last Thursday night, to control the spread of the raging Covid-19 pandemic, could have been avoided if the incumbent government had completed the construction of Sri Lanka’s first temperature and humidity controlled warehouse complex for perishables,  at Dambulla, launched in April 2019.

The change of government, in Nov 2019 following the presidential election, had adversely impacted the project, the former UNP non-Cabinet Minister said, adding that he had requested Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardane to expedite the project as it benefited the farmer community.

The previous government undertook the construction of the warehouse complex capable of storing 5,000 metric tonnes of vegetables and fruits. The then Economic Reforms and Public Distribution Minister de Silva and Indian Deputy High Commissioner Dr. Shilpak N. Ambule initiated the project on land adjoining the Dambulla Economic Centre.

At the time of the launch, the government announced the agro cold storage complex was to be constructed with Rs 300 mn Indian financial grant and completed within six months. It was reported that the facility would consist of six separated sections of different temperature and humidity levels. The government intended to provide farmers an opportunity to store their excess harvest or in case of an emergency at a concessionary price.

Dr. de Silva said that the country couldn’t allow post-harvest losses and waste to continue not only during peak season but during emergency situations as well. The recent reportage of massive waste of vegetables and fruits due to the lockdown was shocking, the MP said, the failure to finish such a farmer friendly project couldn’t be justified under any circumstances.

The previous government planned similar agro-storage complexes at Keppetipola covering the Central Province, Jaffna covering the Northern Province, Embilipitiya covering the Southern Province.

MP de Silva said that when he pointed out the failure on the part of this government to address the issue, SLPP supporters questioned the rationale in my criticism demanding to know what the previous administration did in that regard. The former UNPer said that the Dambulla, project located in a three-and-half-acre land adjoining the Dambulla Economic Center was meant to revolutionize the food storing strategy.  The MP said the government shouldn’t have played politics with the Dambulla project.

Lawmaker de Silva said that the contentious issue of post-harvest losses had been discussed both in and outside Parliament. Leaving aside serious shortcomings in the government’s Covid-19 response, the top SJB spokesperson said that addressing the country’s requirement for proper facilities to store perishables should be met. The ongoing epidemic deteriorated the situation, the MP said, pointing out the country lacked required basic facilities to store excess harvest.

 Meanwhile, Matale District SJB MP and Dr. de Silva’s colleague, Rohini Kaviratne, flayed the government over the crisis caused by the farmers’ failure to sell large stocks of vegetables brought to the Dambulla Economic Centre. MP Kaviratne told The Island that having requested the farmers to bring their harvest there, the government imposed travel restrictions thereby preventing buyers coming to the Dambulla Economic centre. According to her, 2.6 mn kilos of perishables had been brought and allowed to go waste. The former UNP MP alleged that a certain politician and some businessmen manipulated the entire process for their benefit.

Dr. de Silva said that in addition to the Indian grant, his own Ministry provided Rs 225 million and proceeded with the project regardless of severe objections. Responding to another query, he said some objected to the project as it was meant to free the farming community from the clutches of the middlemen who brazenly exploited those who toiled in the fields.’

The project suffered a major setback in the wake of the declaration of 2019 presidential polls. “Overnight, the situation changed. Inordinate delays caused a chaotic situation,” the former Minister said, appreciating an opportunity given to him by Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardane to brief ministry officials of the Dambulla project as well as overall plans in that regard.

MP de Silva said that they adopted novel construction methods to control expenditure as conventional building of the structure would have cost as much Rs 1 bn. According to the SJB MP, the government should give priority to the Dambulla project and ensure the implementation of the original plan. If it was simply placed under ‘Sathosa’ the government couldn’t achieve the original objectives to make the farming community part of the decision-making process in a bid to give them a say in their own affairs.

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People to get fuel price shock soon



The Cabinet sub-committee on the cost of living had decided to increase fuel prices, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila told the media yesterday (11) in Colombo. He said that the date of the price hikes  would be revealed soon.

The Minister said that if they announced the date, it would lead to long lines at filling stations and it would have disastrous consequences during the pandemic.

“We know that things are hard for everyone, that is why we didn’t increase fuel prices for 21 months. But the government can no longer bear the losses. The oil prices in the world market have been increasing. By the end of 2020, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had accumulated a loss of RS. 331 billion. Each year we spend three billion dollars to import oil,” he said.

Gammanpila said that the main sources of income for the country had been affected due to the pandemic and foreign investments and tourism had stopped and a large number of Lankans working abroad had returned, decreasing remittances.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Office on May 20 said that a ministerial subcommittee discussed the sharp increase in crude oil prices compared to 2019 and 2020.

The PM chaired the meeting in the Committee Room 8 in Parliament. The Cabinet subcommittee discussed ways and means of addressing the problems caused by the crude price hike.

The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. (RK)

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HRC asks IGP to explain how he intended to stop deaths of suspects in police custody



Report called by June 13

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Human Rights Commission has sought an explanation from IGP C.D. Wickremaratne as regards continuing deaths in police custody.

In a letter dated June 8, 2021, HRC Chairman Dr. Jagath Balasuriya has raised the recent deaths in police custody with the focus on two incidents involving Panadura and Batticaloa police.

HRC Acting Director Research and Monitoring Nihal Chandrasiri told The Island that the June 8 dated letter was the latest missive addressed to the IGP regarding this particular issue since the formation of the new HRC following the last general election in August 2020.

Chandrasiri made available to The Island, a copy of Dr. Balasuriya’s letter addressed to IGP Wickremaratne.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in late Dec 2020 named former lawmaker Balasuriya as the Chairman of the HRC comprising· Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa.

Chandrasiri said that the HRC first took up deaths in police custody in the wake of the killing of Dinithi Melan alias Uru Juwa, who had been arrested by the Nawagamuwa police, and Dharmakeerthi Tharaka Perera Wijesekara alias Kosgoda Tharaka in the second week of May 2021.

Civil society activist attorney-at-law Senaka Perera told The Island that continuing deaths in police custody should be examined against the backdrop of a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka delivered that the extra-judicial killing of a suspect in police custody violated the right to life, in spite of the absence of an explicit right to life clause  in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

According to Dr. Balasuriya’s letter, reportage of the deaths of Chandana Vidushan and Ali Khan in the custody of the Batticaloa police and Panadura (North) police, respectively, prompted the HRC to take up the matter with the IGP. Declaring that the HRC has initiated an inquiry in terms of Section 14 of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya said that inquiries revealed both victims suffered cruel and inhuman treatment in the hands of the police, leading to their deaths?.

Expressing serious concern over what he called the absence of safety and security of those in police custody, Dr. Balasuriya has pointed out to the IGP relevant sections of the Constitution, in addition to Supreme Court rulings in respect of such matters and two letters dated Oct 21, 2020 and  March 17, 2021 that dealt with the issue at hand.

Asserting that continuing deaths in police custody resulted in deterioration of public confidence in law and order, such incidents underscored the threat to what he called public freedom. Having reminded the IGP that the HRC intervened in terms of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya has requested the IGP to submit a report to him of measures he intended to introduce to prevent deaths in police custody by or before June 13.

In the wake of several killings in police custody, Romesh de Silva, PC, recently moved the Court of Appeal on behalf of convicted heroin dealer Gampola Vidanalage Samantha Kumara alias Wele Suda held at maximum security Boossa prison. President’s Counsel successfully argued against the police taking Wele Suda into their custody.  

President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris has appeared in the Court of Appeal on behalf of Janith Madushankar alias Podi Lassi. Having brought to the notice of justices, Sobitha Rajakaruna and Dhammika Ranepola, the most recent killings in police custody of ‘Uru Juwa’ and ‘Kosgoda Tharaka,’ Peiris sought the court’s intervention to ensure his client’s safety and security.

The lawyer has requested that the court direct the IGP to transfer his client from the custody of the CID to another unit.



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Health trade union alliance claims their strike a success



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Senior health officials including doctors benefited from the current health crisis, Health Services Trade Union Alliance (HSTUA) President Saman Rathnapriya said yesterday commenting on the trade union action resorted to by a number of health sector unions, excluding the GMOA.

Rathnapriya maintained that the strike was a success and non-health sector unions  too had supported them because what he called unfair increases in allowances received by doctors affected the entire state sector. The allowance given to doctors had been increased by 78%, from Rs. 41,220 to Rs. 78,120, however other categories had not received any increase in their allowances, he said.

“Our union action was a success, but we are not happy we had to do this. Nurses and other staffers have not received any increase in their allowances although they too are contributing greatly in the fight against COVID-19. The Health Ministry is unnecessarily creating issues by giving a colossal allowance increase to the doctors,” Rathnapriya said.

College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President Ravi Kumudesh said that the doctors held top positions in the Health Ministry and for many years they had been ignoring the salaries and allowances of other employees.

“They not only mistreat us but create new issues, testing our patience. Throughout this pandemic you can see this. They get all the perks and have even their family members vaccinated. They are taking advantage of the fact that we are exercising patience in view of the pandemic,” Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh added that the union action had not affected the anti-COVID-19 programme, cancer, maternity and paediatric hospitals, etc.

“We are not doing this to inconvenience the people. We are trying to ensure that the Health Ministry does not create additional problems,” he said

President of All Ceylon Management Service Officer’s Union, Udeni Dissanayake said that they too supported the trade union action because the actions of the GMOA would have an adverse impact on the entire state sector.

Doctors had received certain perks in recent years, and they had contributed to salary anomalies and inequality of remuneration across the board, he said.

“Doctors were treated with great respect in our culture, and this is being eroded by the actions of the GMOA. They have been receiving allowances increased and after a while those of similar standing in other sectors, too, ensure that they get hikes, but those in the lower grades do not see any increase. Although we are not a health sector union, we fully support this action for two reasons. One is that the cause is just and the other is that the impact of the allowance hike given solely  to the doctors will soon be felt by us,” Dissanayake said.

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